A Comforting Vegetarian Casserole For a Chilly Night

Thanksgiving morn. Started out chilly and ended up being in the 50s! The kitchen windows were opened to let out some of the heat!

With the Thanksgiving holiday over but Christmas right around the corner, I find now is the time to delve into lighter meals for dinner. I try to make this time in between the holidays to be about healthy, yet comforting meals. Less on the meat, more on the fruits and vegetables. Your waistline will thank you in April!

A couple of months ago I noticed a picture of a dish in a copy of Eating Well magazine that looked very similar to my own Chris’s Chi-Chi Beans with a few additions. I didn’t bother looking at the recipe, I decided to add those extra ingredients and try it! The dish I created was a warm and comforting vegetarian recipe (and gluten-free, too) that will be good on any night. Plus, it made lots of leftovers for lunches!

“Frost” the top of the casserole with the squash!

Chickpeas and Squash Casserole with Quinoa
I like to have a box or two of frozen squash on hand in the winter. Along with being a quick side dish, I find it utterly comforting; it’s much smoother than I can ever get squash I roast. With no additions, it’s just pure squash and it’s delicious!

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, diced
1 can chickpeas, rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup cooked quinoa*
1 package of frozen winter squash, thawed
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium-sized saucepan, warm the olive oil. Sauté the onion, garlic, and carrot until the the carrots are soft and onions soft and translucent. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, quinoa and stir to combine. Place in a casserole dish and top (or “frost”) with the thawed winter squash. Place in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until you’re ready to serve dinner.

*To cook just one cup of quinoa, add one cup of water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add ½ cup of quinoa and cook until soft and the water is absorbed.

Cook’s note: When setting some of this aside for my lunch, I thought a dash of cinnamon would be a welcome spice and it was! Just a tiny bit really gave it much more flavor and melded well with the beans and tomatoes.

Thanksgiving Redux

I thought I’d check back with this year’s Thanksgiving recipes. I made four new dishes (including the aforementioned Astor House Rolls), some were repeaters, some not. (For those of you wondering, I chickened (turkeyied? yuck yuck!) out and cooked the stuffing on the side instead in the bird; I didn’t want to take any chances!)

I followed most of my pre-dinner tips, although I skipped making the pie on Wednesday afternoon in favor of seeing “Lincoln” (which was great, by the way). Along the way amongst the many cooking podcasts, websites, and magazines, I also collected a couple more tips to add to my entertaining arsenal!

More tips

• When making pie crust, put the stick of butter in the freezer for a little while and take out your hand grater and grate it like you would cheese or a carrot, thus making small pieces of butter to start making crust! This worked great; I keep butter in the freezer, so my stick took some elbow grease to shave, but it certainly beats chunks of butter that you need to work into the flour. This tip came from Amanda Hesser of Food52.

• Take out the crock pot! With just four burners and an oven, I heard on “America’s Test Kitchen Radio Show” to use your crock pot for whatever needs warming, leaving one more available burner. I decided to do this with mashed potatoes; not wanting to make them at the last minute, I made them the night before with the intention of warming them in the crock pot. I just added a little liquid and they tasted like they were just made!

• Remember the paper towels! Noticing the windows in the November light hadn’t been cleaned in months, I used up most of my paper towel roll and had just a couple of sheets left. Lucky for me, my dad carries them in the car, so we were saved!

Madeira-Sage Turkey Gravy

I thought I was lucky when I snatched a 2012 holiday catalog from Williams-Sonoma. I love perusing and dreaming of all the cookware and they sometimes have recipes interspersed. And this recipe for a dark coffee-colored turkey gravy in a turquoise Dutch oven looked really yummy. Unfortunately, mine wasn’t that dark and the flavor was just ok. But full admission, I made this before the turkey was done, so I didn’t get a lot of pan drippings, probably less than a quarter cup, and it was quite thin. And I found the Madeira was on the strong side. If I make this again, I will definitely follow instructions!

Canal Street’s Cranberry Port Gelée 

If you have a bag of cranberries, some sugar, and ten minutes, then you can make this recipe! This came together quickly, although once you start to serve it, I noticed the “gelée” sort of lost its gel. This was definitely one of the better homemade cranberry sauces I’ve made, with just the right amount of sugar to lose the sourness and bitterness of the cranberries. I used Madeira, since I had it on hand and they said that was a worthy substitute.

Bourbon Pecan Pie

This recipe, from The Essential New York Times Cookbook was the sparkling gem. Frankly, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a bad pecan pie, but this was tops. Just those two tablespoons of bourbon lent just a slight flavor in the rich filling. I’m not sure what happened, but the tart totally collapsed, so my fluted edges sank. It wasn’t particularly pretty, but it was delicious! A definite repeater, but perhaps an ending for a less filling and rich meal!

While delicious, my beautiful fluted crust sank when put in the oven.


Thanksgiving Day Tips and a Recipe

I thought I would pop in today since this is the last weekend before the big dinner with some tips and a recipe!

I almost always take the week of Thanksgiving off; for me it is a time to relax, take long walks in whatever daylight may be available, and of course, cook and bake. It’s a little odd to think of preparing for days for just one meal, but I love it. For a few years, I visited my grandmother in New York, with my cousins and other family. Wednesday night was always pizza, the best you’ll ever have. But I did no cooking, so the holiday always felt different. While those days were filled with family and lots of laughter, I also missed preparing and cooking dinner.

Since I refuse to be frazzled when I cook this year’s meal, I’m going back to my own tips for preparing for the big day and thought I would reprint these again for those who may have missed them the first time around. Some of these tips may seem elementary, although to me they make the actual battle of getting everything ready all at once easier. I have to admit, some of these aren’t original, just things I’ve collected through the years that work for me.

• This goes without saying, but prepare some items the day before or even two or three days before. Squash can be made Monday or Tuesday, rolls can be made a week ahead of time and can be frozen until Thursday morning. They can even be made this weekend. Make and bake your pies late Wednesday evening, that way you’re not trying to jockey for space in the oven with your turkey the next day.

• On Wednesday, take out your china and all serving bowls and utensils and assign dishes to each one. This saves a lot on the “what bowl is the stuffing going into?” questions when you have some ravenous people hovering at your elbow in the kitchen. I put the assignments on scraps of paper and place them inside each bowl or plate, which I find helps me immensely the next day. All china and linens also are cleaned and ready to go, so all I have to do Thursday morning is set the table.

• Create a timeline. I take my menu, figured out how long the turkey was going to cook and what I have to do when it comes out of the oven. So I have everything down to the time, “9 a.m., turkey in the oven; at 12:45 see if it’s almost done and start the potatoes” etc. This allows me to easily whisk around the kitchen and allows for everything to be done pretty much at the same time (fingers crossed!). This method also is good for any meal you’re cooking while entertaining, as I have a habit of forgetting things once the door opens and the guests arrive!

• A small, old-fashioned relish plate as an appetizer. So many times I’ve made a couple of appetizers, which fill up your guests before the meal. How about some carrots and celery sticks, a bowl of black olives, and cornchicons? Just a little something light to tide everyone over before dinner. Sliced fennel with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper is another tasty treat.

• Instead of putting all the dishes on the table, finding room among the arms and elbows, I set up the kitchen counter as a buffet, so people can fill their plates and return to an uncluttered table. While it doesn’t paint the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving feast, I find this to be a much nicer way to eat, so you aren’t surrounded by people plus dishes!

• If you want some additional quick recipes, check out Mark Bittman’s fantastic “101 Tips for the Big Day” from the New York Times. This is well worth reading and printing out; I always refer to it this time of year; Bittman is the king of quick tips and simplicity and is always so helpful.

I pulled out my Essential New York Times Cookbook when planning this year’s meal. Since I have some little ones in my life who love bread and any form of it, I thought I’d make some rolls. I love Parker House Rolls, but decided to go with the more aristocratic-sounding Astor House Rolls. I made a test run on these a couple of weeks ago; easy, instructions are crystal clear, and they were really yummy, especially right out of the oven! I was thinking since you put a little bit of butter in the roll before cooking, that some minced garlic and/or herbs would be a nice touch. Next time.

Happy little buns.

Astor House Rolls
From The Essential New York Times Cookbook, by Amanda Hesser, p. 652

1 packet active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
About 6 cups all-purpose flour, or more as needed
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups whole milk scalded and cooled to lukewarm
7 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon colt unsalted butter

1. Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water and let stand until foamy. Put 5 cups of flour in a large bowl (you can use a mixer with a dough hook if you want) and make a well in the center. Add the yeast mixture, salt, sugar, softened butter, and milk and stir, slowly incorporating the flour from the sides. Then stir and beat the mixture until a ball of dough has formed. Pour the dough and any remaining flour onto a work surface and gradually knead in the remaining 1 cup flour.

2. Put the dough in a clean bowl, cover, and let rise until light and fluffy and almost doubled.

3. Punch down the dough and knead until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes–you should need very little, if any, extra flour for this step. Return to the bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in size.

4. Punch down the dough and divide into 22 pieces. Shape each piece into a tight round (see ** at end), keep the other pieces covered with plastic wrap while you work. Beginning with the first round, flatten each roll, seam side up, to 1/2-inch thick. Place 1 teaspoon butter in the center, lift one edge of the dough, and pull it up and over the butter, forming a turnover-shaped roll, and pinch the ends firmly closed to seal in the butter. Arranged rolls 3 inches apart on nonstick baking sheets (or baking sheets covered with parchment). Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled, about 1 hour.

5. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

6. Bake until the rolls are puffed, golden, and cooked through, about 16 minutes. Cool on baking racks.

Makes 22 rolls.

Originally published in the New York Times, October 27, 1878: “Useful Hints for Housekeepers.” Recipe signed Lillie.

** To shape rolls, follow the instructions of Nancy Silverton in her book Breads from the La Brea Bakery: “Shape the dough into balls by cupping your hand lightly around the dough and rounding it against the friction of the work surface to form a smooth bun. Begin slowly and increase speed as the ball becomes tighter and smoother. Use as little flour as possible to prevent sticking.”

Gougères (or Fancy Cheese Puffs)

Many a Sunday morning in the cooler months, you can find me hunkered over my computer writing in one of the best bakeries I’ve ever visited. The Vergennes Laundry (written up in the New York Times here) is a small authentic French bakery with incredible pastries and delicious, dark coffee. If I’m there in the morning, it’s a croissant, and late morning to early afternoon, they start bringing in more goodies for something more substantial. (My latest favorite is gilfeather (turnip) rosemary tarte flambée, which is dough topped with cheese, sweet turnips, rosemary, and sea salt.) Lots of delicious little bits and pieces here and there, and sometimes I’ll bring home a tiny truffle for later. Writing, eating, and reading the Sunday The New York Times, I’m in heaven; it’s a great way to wile away the cold days with a cozy spot at the table and the wood fire ovens warming the room.

One of their treats are gougères, which I would describe as a cross between a cheese puff and a small popover. And like everything, they are delicious. Warm cheese mixed with herbs in a puffy roll. So I decided I wanted to make these at home. And boy, did I find a recipe!

David Lebovitz is the author of the book, The Sweet Life in Paris. A former pastry chef at Alice Water’s famous Oakland restaurant, Chez Panisse, Lebovitz decided following a couple of life changes to pack it up and move to Paris. If you want a food memoir that makes you laugh and drool, this is a great book. He gives stories of being an American living in France and ends each chapter with a recipe. So when I was looking for a gougère recipe online and I found his, I didn’t need to look any farther. His recipe is clear, easy to follow, and the results incredible.

I found myself home alone with a hunk of Vermont cheddar cheese in the fridge on election night. I had time while I was waiting for the polls to close and knew what I was going to make. Don’t be intimidated by the long recipe; it’s just eight ingredients, but read the recipe over carefully, as his instructions are really helpful. These made for a perfect dinner with a salad and a glass of wine. But I also thought they would be great for a cocktail party, pop them in the oven, and pull them out when your guests walk in the door. I would recommend eating soon after they come out of the oven; no, I didn’t eat the whole batch (although I came close!), but they definitely lost something the next day.

I don’t have a pastry bag, so I used a heavy plastic bag and snipped off the end. I found this a bit messy and difficult; I’ve never done this before and lost a lot of batter trying to get it in the bag. (My batch only made 20, not 30.) Next time I think I’ll just use a spoon–or find someone to hold it open!

From davidlebovitz.com

About thirty bite-sized puffs

Two things to keep in mind when making these. One is that you should have all the ingredients ready to go before you start. Don’t let the water and butter boil away while you grate the cheese. Otherwise you’ll lose too much of the water. Second is to let the batter cool for a few minutes before adding the eggs so you don’t ‘cook’ them. Make sure when you stir in the eggs that you do it vigorously, and without stopping. I’m not a fan of extra dishes to wash, but the intrepid can put the dough in a food processor or use an electric mixer to add and mix the eggs in quickly.

If you don’t have a pastry bag with a plain tip, you can put the dough into a freezer bag, snip off a corner, and use that. Or simply use two spoons to portion and drop the dough onto the baking sheet. This recipe can easily be doubled.

1/2 cup (125ml) water
3 tablespoons (40g) butter, salted or unsalted, cut into cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
big pinch of chile powder, or a few turns of freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 cup (70g) flour
2 large eggs
12 chives, finely-minced (or 1 to 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme)
3/4 cup (about 3 ounces, 90g) grated cheese (See above for ideas)

1. Preheat the oven to 425F (220C.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.
2. Heat the water, butter, salt, and chile or pepper in a saucepan until the butter is melted.
3. Dump in the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides into a smooth ball. Remove from heat and let rest two minutes.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring quickly to make sure the eggs don’t ‘cook.’ The batter will first appear lumpy, but after a minute or so, it will smooth out. (You can transfer the mixture to a bowl before adding to eggs to cool the dough, or do this step in a food processor or electric mixer, if you wish.)
5. Add about 3/4s of the grated cheese and the chives, and stir until well-mixed.
6. Scrape the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a wide plain tip and pipe the dough into mounds, evenly-spaced apart, making each about the size of a small cherry tomato.
7. Top each puff with a bit of the remaining cheese, the pop the baking sheet in the oven.
8. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375F (190C) and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re completely golden brown.

For extra-crispy puffs, five minutes before they’re done, poke the side of each puff with a sharp knife to release the steam, and return to the oven to finish baking.

Serving: The puffs are best served warm, and if making them in advance, you can simply pipe the gougères on baking sheets and cook right before your guests arrive, or reheat the baked cheese puffs in a low oven for 5-10 minutes before serving. Some folks like to fill them, or split them and sandwich a slice or dry-aged ham in there, although I prefer them just as they are.

A bit of troubleshooting: The most common problem folks have with pâte à choux, or cream puff dough, is deflated puffs. The usual causes are too much liquid (eggs), or underbaking. Make sure to use large eggs, not extra-large or jumbo, and use a dry, aged cheese, if possible. And bake the puffs until they’re completely browned up the sides so they don’t sink when cooling. If yours do deflate, that’s fine. I’ve seen plenty of those in France, and I actually think the funky-looking ones have a lot of charm—and you’re welcome to quote me on that.

Comfort in a Bowl

You know those days you just want to crawl under the covers and not face the world again? Or your best friend moves away? Or your candidate loses an important election? Those are the days I make a big pot of Hungarian Mushroom Soup, as it’s the perfect way to end a bad day. The slicing of the mushrooms and dicing of the onions allows you to get out your frustration, anxiety, or whatever is bothering you. The soup harkens back to my Eastern European roots; it’s a comforting bowl of creamy soup with just the right amount of spice to make your nose run and nice big slices of mushrooms. If I’m feeling blue or feel a cold coming on, I’ll buy two boxes of mushrooms on the way home from work and right away I know where I’ll be that evening–hunkered over a steaming bowl.

I discovered this soup when I ordered takeout for lunch one day. It was delicious and creamy, but as is my usual way, I knew I could find a way to make it cheaper than what I paid for a small takeout container. And I did.

This recipe is originally from The New Moosewood Cookbook, but many years ago I found online a lower calorie and more flavorful version. So forgive me for not giving proper credit; I use the basic outline, but go off on tangents from there.

Try making this soup over the winter when you have a case of the mean reds. Snuggle up on the couch and put on your favorite movie. Whatever is bothering you, trust me, you’ll feel better!

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

Adapted from The New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen

• 12 ounces mushrooms, sliced (you can always use more if you like)
• 2 cups onions, chopped
• 2 Tablespoons butter
• 3 Tablespoons flour
• 1 cup milk
• 2 teaspoons dill weed
• 1 Tablespoon hungarian paprika (you can use either sweet or hot paprika, I like it hot and spicy!)
• 1 Tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
• 2 cups chicken broth (for a vegetarian version, use water or vegetable broth)
• ½ cup sour cream
• ¼ cup parsley, chopped
• Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (I find I never add salt to this, as the tamari adds just the right amount.)

1. Sauté onions in a little bit of broth until soft. Add the mushrooms, 1 teaspoon of dill, ½ cup of broth, tamari, and paprika. Sauté and simmer for about 15 minutes.

2. In a small saucepan, add the butter. When melted, whisk in the flour to make a paste. Add the milk, and whisk over low heat until thick.

3, Add the milk mixture to the mushrooms as well as the remaining broth. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or so.

4. Just before it’s done, whisk in the sour cream, remaining teaspoon of dill weed, parsley, and salt and pepper.